Bucking the trend toward prison “boot camps” and other harsh efforts to reform inmates, a study reported Tuesday that behind-the-walls education programs are the cheapest and most effective means of reducing the number of prisoners who get arrested after their release.
With national rearrest rates for adult offenders at 60 percent and nearly 80 percent for juveniles, the study found that inmates with at least two years of college education had better chances of getting jobs and a recidivism rate of only 10 percent.
Nancy Mahon, director of the Center on Crime, Communities and Culture, said the study by the non-profit group showed that prison-based education “may be the single best crime prevention approach we have.”
Mahon said despite efforts in Congress and among states to focus on incarceration and longer sentences, inmate education “deserves support at federal and state levels, regardless of political agendas.”
The study said educational programs have minimal costs because “for the most part, (they are) provided by community colleges and universities that offer moderately priced tuition.”
New York, Massachusetts, Maryland and other states reported significantly lower recidivism, ranging from 15.5 percent to as low as 1 percent, for inmates involved in prison college education programs.
The study found that more than 70 percent of all persons entering state correctional facilities have not completed high school, with 16.4 percent lacking any high school education.
Mahon said it is tragic that “in most cases, once juveniles are incarcerated, even for a short time, their line to education is forever broken.” The report said “there is a strong link between low levels of education and high rates of criminal activity.”
The report noted that in conjunction with tougher crime measures and an emphasis on punishment, Congress in 1994 eliminated federal Pell grants for college courses in prison. A year earlier, according to the report, 93 percent of all prison wardens surveyed by Congress strongly supported educational and vocational programs in their prisons.